IBI Power Poll: Your 2014 Indians predictions are...
Here's your chance to spell out what the Indians will do in 2014, and some other tidbits...
It's been a strange offseason.
This Cleveland Indians baseball team is an odd one to consider.
On one hand, you have a team that improved 24 games from 2012, winning 92 baseball games and making the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
On the other hand, for as much free agent and trade activity as the Indians took part in after they signed Terry Francona in 2012, they took the exact opposite approach after the 2013 season.
On one hand, you would have to believe that the Indians would improve on their 2013 improvement.
On the other hand, the Indians lost two valuable starting pitchers, and look a lot similar as their team did last year...without those aforementioned starters.
In other words, this isn't going to be an easy season to predict and project, so you really have to look at what the Indians have, and what they are clearly hoping to do.
While the Lake Erie Warriors subtracted Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir from the starting rotation, they didn't add any substantial free agents to the coffer this offseason, unless you think Shaun Marcum and Aaron Harang are substantial. Even if you do, Harang was released and is currently an Atlanta Brave, while Marcum was sent to minor league camp where he will continue to recover from Thoracic Outlet surgery, and will ultimately become a Columbus Clipper.
Instead, the Indians will hope that their starters can build off of last season's unbelievable success. While Justin Masterson didn't sign a long-term extension with the Indians, he will look to capitalize on his final contract season with the Tribe by building on a solid 2013 campaign. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister will look to rebound from their matching middle-finger sprains, and recapture their outstanding stretches just prior to the injury. Danny Salazar is starting his first season in the Indians rotation, and will look to prove that he's more than 100 MPH, and is better than the pundits that call him a two-pitch wonder would suggest.
The fifth starter role starts with Carlos Carrasco, but will ultimately travel through others, such as Josh Tomlin, Marcum, Trevor Bauer, and the unheralded but promising T.J. House, who has quietly impressed the Indians' front office with solid work ethic. The fact that he's a lefty won't be lost upon the Indians as they look for matchups throughout the season.
The bullpen looks strong, but you can never really count one way or another with a pen. The Indians signed John Axford to a one-year deal, and he should be at least as good as Chris Perez, but should be better. He will be supplemented with their best pen arm, Cody Allen, with Bryan Shaw, Blake Wood, Scott Atchison, Vinnie Pestano, Mark Rzepczynski and Josh Outman.
Wood is enticing, with the Indians patience possibly paying off with a triple-digit hurler. Shaw will look to match last year's solid season, while Rzepczynski and Outman should answer the Indians 2013 early season woes for left-handed relief help. Atchison will play mop-up duty. The intriguing arm in that pen is Vinnie Pestano. If he returns to 2012 form, and the rest hold up to the test and do what they should, this pen could be special. When you take into account guys in Triple A, like Austin Adams, Nick Hagadone, Bryan Price, Giovanni Soto and especially C.C. Lee, you can see that they have a cushion with some really good arms in waiting. While their system has been a mess for a few years, the one thing the Indians have done well is stockpile arms, and I haven't named all the plus players in this piece either.
While the Indians infield defense will be poor outside of the backstop, they show much promise offensively, even without a named star. Two could erupt in 2014, with Jason Kipnis on the verge of breaking out (which is saying something, considering his past numbers), while Carlos Santana will get a full season at third base, saving his legs and psyche from the Catcher position, which could provide an instant offensive boost. At first is Nick Swisher, who should remain healthier at first base, while Asdrubal Cabrera certainly can't be any worse than the black hole that he was last season (I realize there are Cabrera apologists out there, but seriously, go back and watch meaningful games. If you lump his overall numbers with year's past, you just aren't watching the same game I am).
In the outfield, we have Michael Brantley looking to build off of an exquisite 2013 campaign in which he owned the clutch. No, he'll never be "great," but boy can he be the backbone of the team if he keeps coming through in the clutch. I love his IQ, and he could have some sneaky good numbers. In right, the Indians only substantial signing, David Murphy, will bring his left-handed bat to platoon a bit with Ryan Raburn. Murphy will need to show his 2013 regression was temporary, while Raburn will have to show his 2013 improvement wasn't.
In center at some point will be Michael Bourn, who wasn't very good in 2013. The fact that he's out with an injured hamstring is a lot more concerning than the Indians are letting on. You can't be happy that a guy who lives and dies with his legs, has hurt legs. The lack of overall power could be a bit of an issue, but this is a non-traditional offense, who should see power supplement come from 2B, SS and Catcher.
That catcher is Yan Gomes, who just signed a six-year deal to remain with the Indians. He joins Carlos Santana (2012 deal) and Michael Brantley (four-year extension this season) as youngsters that will be a bit older before they test the free agent market.
The bench has a nice feel to it, with Mike Aviles back in his utility role, joined by the similar Elliot Johnson. Both can play both the infield and the outfield, with Johnson having the ability to play every position but pitcher and catcher. Lonnie Chisenhall will join them while Jason Giambi heals up, but will have his back to the wall. He's playing for his major league life right now, but could prove to be interesting should he finally take advantage of his chance. In the outfield, Nyjer Morgan will supplement Michael Bourn, but will likely be looking for a job before too long, thanks to the versatility of the Indians infielders, and his similarity in player-type to Bourn.
What's really exciting about this team is that there could be some supplementation with real and actual minor league players. At Triple A Columbus is one guy that should be on this team, and another guy that could shut up a boatload of critics. In Jose Ramirez, the Indians have a potential defensive superstar at second base, who is better at short than some of the grades that I've seen. He's not a power guy, but he is a major leaguer. He's not far, and he will be a factor if he's not traded at some point. Jesus Aguilar is another guy that's been proving himself for three years now. He's knocking on the door, and unlike JRam, has a clearer path should injuries crop up. I don't like him as a prospect near as much as JRam, but there's are intangibles with him on a day-to-day basis that folks that listen to reports instead of watching just don't see. He's not a superstar, but I liken him to a Paulie Sorrento sorta player. He has tangible power, but needs to control everything else to be a major league factor. Watch out for Carlos Moncrief as well. He's not on the radar now, but his tools are scary if he can harness them.
Keep an eye out for my fanboy favorite, Joe Wendle. If he can take his offense to Akron, then his defense is more than good enough to transition to the upper levels and the majors. I don't realistically think the Majors is in his 2014 future, but hey, it's my piece, and I know you saw the word "fanboy" up there. I get my one ego-driven mention.
The elephant in the room all year long though will be Francisco Lindor. It's always good to season your top prospects, but the Indians haven't had one this good since their 90's run. His make-up is consistently mentioned as the best in the minors, and there's more offense there than initially thought. Check out former IBI scribe Al Ciammaichella's piece at The Diatribe today. Lindor has been eye-opening, which is saying something since our eyes have been open pretty wide already.
Is this team good enough though, or are we entering an all-to-familiar down-year after a playoff run, as we saw in 2006 and 2008? While I think this team is built for the long haul, I'm not sure what to think of this team. Can intangibles make them special?
Enough banter...let's get this concert started. We have multiple polls today, so make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom, and have some fun with it!
Welcome to opening day eve 2014, when EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!
What are your Cleveland Indians going to do in 2014? Is this another "post-good year of bad," or are the Indians finally going to be able to sustain success?
Alright, so you've given your opinion on the Indians and what they'll do in 2014. How many wins will it take to achieve your prediction? How many wins will your Indians get in 2014?
Let's get into the details of this season. Who will be the best offensive player for the Indians in 2014?
What about the best starter?
And of course...the best bullpen arm?
Who will be your Cleveland Indians MVP in 2014?
Who will win the A.L. Central? Even if you picked the Indians, select them once again here. If you didn't, who is the best team in the A.L. Central in 2014? Will the Tigers recapture the flag? Have the Royals overtaken the Indians and the Tigers? Will the Twins added depth take them to the next level? Will the White Sox understated moves win the day?
Who will win the American League Pennant?
Who will win the National League Pennant?
Who will win the World Series?
And finally, and try to answer this as truthfully as possible, how many Indians' games to you intend to attend?
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.